T Natarajan - a beast with a calm demeanour

To Natarajan’s credit, he has continued to evolve in the stiffest role for a pacer.
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Natarajan is a quiet guy, and so are his performances.

When T Natarajan came into the attack in the sixth over, Delhi Capitals (DC) were going at 16.20 runs per over in a 267-run chase, with Jake Fraser-McGurk and Abishek Porel in their element on an absolute belter. It was the final powerplay over, and two dynamites were ready to pounce on a fresh bowler. What followed, though, was a Natarajan special.

After bowling a good length delivery on the off-stump line, Natarajan bowled a pinpoint yorker to Abishek for two dot balls. Two balls later, he shortened his length and took the pace off to Abishek, who plays sweep as a boundary-hitting shot against pacers. Later, Natarajan again attempted a slower ball into the pitch and conceded only seven runs to close the powerplay.

Overall, Natarajan conceded only 19 runs in four overs and snared four wickets, his career-best figures in T20s. In a game with a run rate of 11.89, and only two other bowlers conceded less than 9 runs per over, Natarajan went for 4.75 and gave only two boundaries. His team went on to defend the total comfortably despite taking ample beating throughout.

Natarajan quietly did what he has been doing consistently - bowling the toughest overs with reasonable success. SRH had Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Pat Cummins as their lead bowlers, but they were still dependent on Natarajan to do all arduous things. Bhuvneshwar labelled him a “silent guy”.

“Amazing. We know how good he is at yorkers. He keeps working hard, silent guy, goes unnoticed a lot. We know how important he is for Sunrisers.”

IPL 2024 was severe for bowlers; the run-scoring was at an all-time high, and the bowling numbers inflated like anything. The average batting strike rate jumped to 150 for the first time in the tournament and a record 1260 balls sailed over the ropes this season. Any bowler managing to nail half of his planned deliveries was a success.

Also Read: Abhishek Sharma — not just another part-time spinner

Among all SRH bowlers to bowl in at least five innings, T Natarajan had the best economy rate (9.05) in IPL 2024. Further, he has had the third-best economy among pacers with at least 50 overs this season.

50% of Natarajan’s powerplay overs has been the sixth one, and his economy in this over has been 8.62. Both other SRH pacers have gone for more than 11 per over while closing the powerplay.

Even in death overs, Natarajan has been SRH’s best pacer by a mile. He has an economy rate of 9.83, giving away a boundary every 4.29 deliveries in IPL 2024. Meanwhile, Pat Cummins, the second-best SRH speedster, has leaked 11.21 runs per over with a balls-per-boundary ratio of 3.56. Jaydev Unadkat and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have gone for 11.86 and 13.55 runs every over at a balls-per-boundary ratio of 4.30 and 3.30, respectively.

On comparing his performance with other SRH pacers, we find that Natarajan has bowled better than his counterparts in 64.28% of matches in IPL 2024. He has given less than nine runs per over in seven of the 14 games.

Natarajan came into the limelight for nailing his yorkers at will. However, this year, he didn’t rely on yorkers only and mixed them with slower ones brilliantly.

He attempted yorkers on 36.74% of his deliveries and bowled 27% slower balls (<125 km/h) in IPL 2024. He has mixed them brilliantly to remain unpredictable. His off-pace deliveries have mostly been on the shorter side of the pitch, making them arduous to hit.

70.32% of his slower ones have been back of length or short, where he has an economy of 6.18 in IPL 2024. When Rajasthan Royals’ last recognised pair - Dhruv Jurel and Rovman Powell - was looking to score freely in Qualifier 2, T Natarajan’s pace-off slower ones quashed any remaining hope in RR’s camp. He kept digging into the pitch and away from the hitting arc to restrict them while also dismissing Rovman Powell.

Even his pace-on deliveries on the shorter lengths have fetched ample success. Natarajan has bowled 33.19% of balls on the back of length or shorter side, conceding 6.21 runs per over.

When Punjab Kings’ openers were flying high and looked unstoppable, Natarajan brought the much-needed breakthrough for his side. He bowled an on-pace short delivery away from Taide’s body, whose foot movement was pretty much restricted against pacers throughout his stay. Consequently, he could only chip it straight to the backward point, losing his wicket.

These dismissals depict why Natarajan has come a long way. On a tricky deck in Qualifier 2, he took the pace off the delivery to let the ball stick on the surface, making it tough to hit. But on a flat Hyderabad deck, Natarajan cramped batters for room by bowling hard lengths.

While his success on yorkers isn’t as high, whenever Natarajan has erred them as a full toss, he has got away with them at times. Only 35.13% of his full tosses have been put away for a boundary, which is not as bad, given he also bowls in slog overs. That’s because he has bowled them on wide outside the leg stump lines mostly, with most of them ending as low full tosses, which are arduous to hit.

Being a one-trick pony in T20 cricket can be threatening, for pacers only relying on yorkers are always found out and become hittable after a honeymoon period. Someone like Arshdeep Singh, who once showed excellent command in landing his balls into blockholes, was taken to the cleaners after a couple of seasons. He learnt his lessons the hard way.

The modern-day batters have a plethora of shots, including different types of sweeps and ramps square and behind the square of the wicket. Further, batters can hit any length across the line more often with the kind of pitches offered nowadays. The bowlers have to be multi-skilled to remain effective.

To Natarajan’s credit, he has continued to evolve in the stiffest role for a pacer. In fact, he has more control over his yorkers than Arshdeep but still developed different types of slower ones and found ways to use them. The two-bouncer rule has made these slower ones slightly more valuable, for pacers can land them on the shorter side at least twice.

In an interview with ESPNcricinfo, Natarajan talked about his thought process and executed it precisely in the game.

“It depends on the wicket and conditions, firstly. On slower wickets, I can get hit if I keep trying my yorker. If you look at our home conditions in Hyderabad, which is a larger ground, I often bowl into the pitch and bowl slower bouncers.”

Just like that, T Natarajan has ended another fruitful IPL season. He has done his job with ample success in a team where batters and the captain have hogged headlines. It was his hardest test as the bowlers were under the pump more than ever in IPL 2024.

Natarajan is a quiet guy, and so are his performances. He doesn’t crave the limelight. Hence, it’s our duty to talk and hype him.

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